Sunday, September 25, 2011

A TRICK OF THE LIGHT by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light is another penetrating character study.

The body of Lillian Dyson turns up in the Morrow garden in Three Pines. Clara and Peter Morrow find the body of Clara’s long-lost friend/enemy the day after their party to celebrate Clara’s artistic breakthrough. The Musée in Montreal chose Clara’s paintings for a one-woman show, an incredible honor for a long-term artist whose work had, up to this time, been ignored.

All but one of the reviews of Clara’s paintings are overwhelmingly good. Critics from the best newspapers in the world see Clara as a genius. But her success widens the rift in her marriage. It also brings up again the simmering anger which came about when Lillian Dyson betrayed her friend Clara and many other artists. And it forms the setting for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his crew to learn about the greed and envy which permeates much of the art world.

The victim, Lillian Dyson, was a recovering alcoholic. As a part of their investigation, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. 

The two men learn about some of the surprising people who are alcoholics. They also learn about the simmering resentments which often lie behind addiction and alcoholism. They learn about the twelve steps and about when and when not to seek forgiveness. 

Both men have their own issues. They have not “healed” from the emotional wounds surrounding a brutal gun battle chronicled in previous books. Gamache still has an enemy in the Sûreté du Québec. Penny leaves that story line to be resolved in a later book.

Gamache’s assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir is divorcing his wife. He loves someone whom it might not be appropriate to love. And he is becoming addicted to pain killers prescribed to deal with the continuing pain from his now-healed physical wounds from the previous gun battle.

In other words, this is a typical Louise Penny.

I’ve come to see Louise Penny’s books, not as mystery stories, but as character studies, psychological novels with a penetrating twenty-first century twist.

The mysteries themselves are often open-ended. There is little way for the reader to have “figured it out.” The murderer could reasonably have been one of a whole series of people. You only know when Gamache gives the explanation.

But the books are terrific. Penny knows about human nature in a way few writers do. Her books are sometimes hard to read because of that. They strike too close to the bone.

This is another excellent Louise Penny novel. I recommend it.


Cathy said...

As character studies, Penny's books are almost impossible to beat. Any time I pick up one of her books I know I have a treat in store for me.

Joe Barone said...

Aren't we fortunate to have so many good books to read?

Cathy said...

We certainly are!